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  • Newsletter Issue #521

    November 22nd, 2009

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Somewhere in the background, you consider Adobe to be a huge, highly successful company. After all, how can they miss what with an application, Photoshop, whose name has become a verb for editing photos. Even mainstream talk shows and TV series fare mention "Photoshopping" a picture when they want to convey the image of retouching or otherwise manipulating an image.

    So it may come as a surprise to you that Adobe has had its share of financial and sales woes, particularly as the result of the poor pupate of its CS4 software. Sales are down over the previous version, and Adobe is shedding approximately 10% of its staff, or 680 workers. This is mostly a repeat of the previous year's experience, where some 900 employees were given pink slips, and its truly sad this has to happen during what's supposed to be a happy time of the year.

    So what's wrong with Adobe and why are they forced to slim down?

    That takes us to last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which included a special encore of "The David Biedny Zone," where our Special Correspondent discussed Adobe's apparent inability to cater to the consumer market, which may be one of the key reasons for flagging sales. In addition, he also talked about the serious lack of technical expertise in far too much of today's tech reporting.

    In another segment, Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS, discussed a genuine iPhone virus, and also Apple's "fuzzy logic" in examining submissions from the ever-popular App Store.

    You'll also heard from columnist Kirk McElhearn about his broken iPod, problems with upgrading his Apple TV and why he sent back his Amazon Kindle ebook reader after using it for just a few days.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, we feature James Carrion, International Director of MUFON, talks about the organization's 40-year history of UFO research, focusing on key cases, including the controversy over the claims of contactee Stan Romanek.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    SOME THINGS THAT APPLE GETS WRONG

    At the risk of offending some of my readers who believe that Apple can do no wrong, let me put my cards on the table. Apple is not your friend, even though the company is widely admired. It is a great money making machine, too, with products that have become cultural icons, such as the iPhone and iPod.

    Certainly Apple has messed up big time on more than a few occasions. The dark days of the 1990s nearly signaled the end of the company as we know it. In those days, the company's leadership actively sought merger partners, and I bet most people -- other than Apple's competitors -- are glad that it didn't happen.

    When Apple does screw up these days, you have to wonder what they were thinking and what sort of market research they conduct in order to decide on products and product features. Or is it simply a matter of Steve Jobs being the decider on everything without regard to practical value?

    Surely the Cube is an example of what may have been nothing more than an indulgence on the part of Jobs. At the time, commentators regarded it as a modern day version of the original NeXT personal computer, which was also cube-shaped. It's also certain that Jobs didn't want to see it discontinued, but ultimately how to bow to the reality of ongoing sales shortfalls, even after the price was sharply reduced.

    Mac OS X is an example of success and failure. You'd think that, in carving out its original feature set, Apple would simply take all of the ones we've grown to love about the Classic Mac OS and just recreate them in the new environment, perhaps with a few neat graphical flourishes. Instead, the changes don't always seem to make sense, and when some capability is finally restored, you wonder why it took so long.

    Take the Put Back feature in Snow Leopard, where you can return an item in the Trash to its original location before you tossed it away. There's nothing new about this capability, since it was present in the Classic Mac OS, so why did it take Apple ten years to figure a way to put it back?

    Now I understand about the shortcomings of the initial versions of Mac OS X, where Apple simply didn't have the time to get everything right, but needed to prove to the world that it was possible to build that long-delayed industrial strength operating system. Once available, however, you had to wonder what Apple was thinking when it came to the features that were never restored.

    So, for example, the Apple menu, infinitely malleable under Mac OS 9, can only be configured in one way under Mac OS X, and that is the result of changes in the number of Recent Items that are displayed. Sure, there are some third-party alternatives that promise to restore those lost Classic OS features. While I have nothing against Apple leaving it to others to fill in some of Mac OS X's gaps, I have to wonder what they are thinking when putting feature sets together.

    But it's not just the lost features that raise concerns. In a previous article on the subject, I ranted about the fact that the Snow Leopard Finder still doesn't address some basic performance and reliability shortcomings of its predecessor. Sure, it's nice to know it's now all Cocoa and 64-bit to boot, but so what? Does any of that make a difference whatever in terms of how you use the Finder?

    Would that 32-bit Carbon version have been that much worse -- or worse at all?

    Yes, Cocoa and 64-bit sound great as marketing tools, but don't you just want something that just works regardless of what programming method was used? Snow Leopard was supposed to be this huge release that fixed up most of what ailed Mac OS X, and perhaps that's largely true. The Finder doesn't seem that much better, however.

    It doesn't necessarily stop there. You see, the 3D Dock, heavily criticized when it first debuted in Leopard, is just as troublesome in 10.6. So, you still have to sometimes glance twice to check out which apps are open.

    When it comes to Spaces, certainly it's nice to work with Apple's multiple desktop feature. However, it remains flaky with some of my most important apps. Maybe it's their fault, maybe it's Apple's or perhaps a combination of both, the most likely explanation. But it's when I'm forced to juggle windows constantly when switching among apps, the undeniable advantages of Spaces are lost.

    These days, I use ASM, short for Application Switcher Menu, which actually restores Classic window switching. Indeed, you have to wonder whether it truly made a whole lot of sense to change. My particular use for ASM is for its window hiding feature, where all applications other than the one you're using are hidden from view. Spaces, of course, lets you set things up so that multiple applications are displayed at the same time, by putting them in the same "space." So it's not a total loss.

    Oh well, maybe things will get better in 10.7. Perhaps the Finder's amnesia will be nothing more than a bad memory, and once Apple gets back to adding new features again, perhaps they'll finally discover a great source of inspiration -- Mac OS 9.

    SO DOES THE NIGHT OWL REALLY HATE MICROSOFT?

    The other day I received a letter from a listener who said that while he liked the show, we spent far too much time bashing Microsoft. Shouldn't we just say this is a show that favors Apple Inc. and be done with it?

    Well, let's consider this for a moment. You see, I really don't hate Microsoft. In fact, I've used Windows for over 15 years, but without much success. Even in the dark days of Apple, where it seemed they could do nothing right, I persevered, not out of loyalty, but the result of simply being practical. The Mac was a superior platform, it was an elegant and reasonably reliable tool to get my work done, so why should I change?

    There's no question where Microsoft failed then and now to change my opinions about their operating system. The things that took just a few steps on a Mac would require multiple and complicated procedures on Windows. You have to wonder whether their interface designers lived in goldfish bowls. How could they not see the Mac advantage and try to devise a closer imitation? Or even something superior perhaps?

    I mean, it took them eight years to figure out how to crib the Dock, and the best they could deliver was something that resembled a cheap application launching center rather than the real thing. Yes, I suppose it's a neat idea to mouseover and see a thumbnail of an open document window and all, but it still looks chintzy. Why can't Microsoft hire people with an artistic sense?

    Or maybe they have such people, but they can't figure out a way to harness their talents to best advantage. Instead, they design by committee, and they seem unable to learn anything from focus groups, usability testing or whatever tools they employ to actually figure out how things ought to work.

    It's also clear that Microsoft made a serious strategic blunder early on by not taking security seriously. They never anticipated the growth of the Internet and the arrival of the online predator subculture. They are still paying for that mistake, as are their customers who must fork over fees for security software subscriptions, not to mention the billions lost as the result of malware outbreaks.

    Sure, Windows 7 is clearly superior to Windows Vista. It's clearly more reliable, runs a mite faster, but the interface is really no better. It has the dark, drab, cheesy veneer that typifies Windows. More to the point, it can seem downright depressing when you have to work with it for an extended period of time. Sure, you can change desktop backgrounds and other settings to liven things up, but Windows still somehow gets in your face, and that's a bad thing.

    This isn't to say Mac OS X is necessarily minimalist or close to perfect in any sense. As I said in the previous article, Apple still has plenty of work to do in order to clean up the rough spots. But they've gone a lot farther than Microsoft in building a sensible, productive environment for you to run your apps. And isn't that what personal computing should be about?

    Rest assured, if I felt that Windows had truly surpassed the Mac OS, I'd say so. But that's not even close to the truth. Yes, we've featured guests on the tech show who have had positive things to say about Windows 7, notably Rob Pegoraro of The Washington Post and Steve Kruschen, known his fans as "Mr. Gadget." But these two people still prefer the Mac, as do I. And that's something that Microsoft's half-baked efforts to seem relevant are not going to change.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    12 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #521”

    1. pila says:

      Gene

      At least 75 % of the current Mac users , including myself, don't know anything abourt Classic.

      Stop refering to that, concentrate about what's going on now, and the future.

      And stop signing your comments with "Peace". Annoying.

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Eduardo says:

      pila:

      I also don't know anything about Classic, but I am definitely interested on how things were better in some point or other that we still don't have.

      About your more general comment, well, I don't want to concentrate only in what's going on now and the future. I want to know where things come from and why they were made that way.

      And, well, I'm not annoyed by that "Peace", I guess it's just Gene's trademark, that's all

      Love,
      Eduardo

      Reply To This Comment

    3. Dan Decker says:

      Wow, pila, just wow.

      Classic Mac OS is where we came from, and a lot of us remember it fondly. It's like trying to deny the influence Win 95 has on where Win 7 is today. Just because you didn't make the transition from 9 to X doesn't make it irrelevant.

      Get over yourself.

      Peace, Love, Happiness and cute little puppies,
      Dan

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Karl says:

      I just fired up my PowerMac G4 into OS 9.2 over the weekend. Man I still love that OS. But ultimately Mac OS X is king... as it should be. Unfortunately the Finder does seem to continue to be a bottle neck as I haven't noticed much of an improvement to it in Snow Leopard.

      As far as Microsoft hating... Gene seems to give it to Microsoft pretty good. But at least it is grounded and not just FUD, so it doesn't bother me. Besides, I spent years (and still do) reading/listening to people who would bash Apple just for being Apple. So when Gene points out some deep flaws in Windows, I enjoy it.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. AdamC says:

      I hope Apple will learn from the Quark experience.

      The heyday when they were the desktop publication application of the day, they got arrogant, stuffy and couldn't careless attitude and designers ran to the arms of Indesign and told Quark what they can do with their application that is up where the sun doesn't shine.

      Now Quark is working extremely hard to win back their following but isn't doing well in that area. Once the loyal following desert the ship they aren't coming back.

      I hope this is a page in history Apple can learn from.

      I side with you on the hate of anything M$...

      Reply To This Comment

    6. MichaelT says:

      I don't remember World War II because it happened before I was born. I wish people would stop bringing it up.

      Oh, yeah, and "Peace", Gene. ;-)

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on November 23rd, 2009 at 10:34 AM:

      @MichaelT, And maybe there was no Revolutionary War either. :)

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    7. Brian says:

      Things like the 'put away' command are not deemed important enough to make the initial cut, that is all. Having this feature work properly is important. It can't simply be added and continue to work reliably as easily as you might think. I find it amazing that we are still using some variant of HFS. They had wanted to make a major file system change, that's not going to happen anytime soon now.

      I think you should consider that Apple doesn't want to put a feature 'back' into the Mac OS from the old days if it's going to cause problems or be something they can't continue. They didn't want it to be a matter of just moving everything to the new system, there are tradeoffs to go along with all the new advantages of OS X. I remember being upset when they took the power key off the keyboard. I liked that feature, but in the long run, it's really no big deal--especially if you no longer have to restart a couple of times a day!

      It's pretty amazing that they took first the OS 9 or 'classic' systems and moved most everyone onto OS X while providing compatibility to OS 9 programs for many years, and also moved from powerPC to Intel processors while also providing even better backward compatibility, all in a decade, where they also created iTunes, iPod, iPhone, etc...

      Reply To This Comment

    8. gopher says:

      Windowshade is an old feature of Mac OS 9 that http://www.haxies.com/ brought back to life for Mac OS X through 10.5.8. Unfortunately it still doesn't work with 10.6. A very handy feature many miss.

      Reply To This Comment

    9. Kaleberg says:

      The reason the Finder sucks so much is obvious. The entire Finder "memory palace" approach to storage has serious limits, but no one has come up with the proper successor.

      Back in the 1970s there were all sorts of graphical file interfaces, including the Xerox files-are-little-icons-in- boxes-called-folders. Xerox had both a multi-column file browser and a graphical display interface. Neither was perfect, but the typical machine had so little storage that there were only so many files to organize. Apple chose its original interface back when each machine had a choice of one or two floppy drives. It made sense then, but once hard disks were added, and they started growing, it became a problem.

      Let's face it. Have you ever moved or copied a file from one place to another using the Finder? You have to start at the top of your hierarchy, drill your way down, scrolling as necessary to get the source file. Then, you have to do it all over again to get to the target file. Then, you have to move the windows around so you can see enough of each of them to do the drag and drop. Now, hopefully before you drop dead of mental exhaustion, you can do the actual move or copy. It's like those video games where you have to power up again and again, or perhaps get sent on some dumb quest each and every time you pass through some doorway.

      The original Classic Finder used a memory palace approach, but that approach is limited by how much of your memory palace you can remember, and by how carefully you put things away in their rooms. If you are working hard on a project, or scurrying around the web doing research, you aren't likely to pay a lot of attention to where you are filing things. I remember when ARPA funded a trillion bit store, 128GB perhaps, but it was based on Ampex video tape, not rotating storage. It seemed like infinity. When they ended the project the entire internet begged ARPA to "save the whale". Now I have ten times that storage full of stuff, but it's much less organized than any of the whale's carefully structured datasets.

      Over the last 30 or 40 years I've dealt with all sorts of computers. I still miss some of the old ones, like the IBM 1130 with its blinking lights, and Multics with its intelligent security design that made it much easier to deal with viruses and Trojan horses. Who doesn't miss the way TOPS-10 would respond to "make love", "not war", before opening TECO? I have 30 or 40 years of files, so the Finder's memory palace approach is nearly useless to me. I haven't intentionally opened a folder in icon view since the 90s. With Spotlight, Mac OS is good enough, but not great, and definitely not insanely great

      When I first started taking digital photos, I preinvented events, putting each group of related photos in its own folder. I even wrote my own photo manager, because I wanted to be able to search by date or location. Now iPhoto is starting to catch up with me. I use my own organizer less and less. If I ever take a picture of a person, I'll probably even learn to appreciate the new faces feature. I anticipate Apple replacing the Finder with something more event and project oriented. It should leverage Spotlight, but also automatically collect things the way iTunes stores music, iPhoto store photos and iMovie collects video. I don't want a memory palace, I want a tireless assistant.

      It seems that every generation has its golden age. I know the Finder used to cleave much more closely to the memory palace model than it does nowadays. I'm sure there are people who miss the put away feature and having to reboot several times a day. I miss the internet the way it was back when it had 255 addresses and fewer sites than that. I miss the clatter of the old Teletype 33 slamming bulk metal against ribbon and paper at ten characters a second. I miss the grinding noise of an IBM 1130 disk seek. I miss the warm smell of the old 026 punch card machines that went away when the 029 ditched vacuum tubes for transistors. Would I go back? Maybe for a brief visit, but right now I am living in 2009.

      Reply To This Comment

    10. William Timberman says:

      One person's interface quirks are another's paradise. Frankly, I find the OS X interface far superior to the Classic way of doing things. The only thing that irritates me is the inability to fix finder windows to the precise location, size and view which you prefer. Otherwise, I find the flexibility -- at least as many ways to do anything as there were in OS 9, and in most cases more -- a genuine improvement. A new window for every folder? Ugh! WindowshadIng? Ugh! Like I say, YMMV.

      As for the Cube, I think that in many ways, it was Apple's finest hour. I've owned a lot of Macs, and until the current generation came along, the Cube was my hands-down favorite. It was ahead of its time, that's all, which was really why a) it was expensive, and b) cooling was such a problem. The current iMac, with its wireless peripherals, low-power Intel multicore processors, enormous but lightweight screen real estate, etc. is its direct lineal descendent.

      Computers, except for specialized uses, are general-purpose appliances, just as Steve Jobs has always conceived of them. You shouldn't have to have a machine that looks like an oil drum, and sounds like a Kirby vacuum cleaner under your desk just to get a job done. In fact, every time I pull my 3GS out of my pocket, I'm tempted to cross myself and thank the Lord that he saw fit to allow Steve Jobs to come into existence. Without Steve's intransigence, we'd still be stuck with roaring tin cans in the office, and bricks which take 27 key strokes to accomplish anything in our pockets.

      Gene, I'm a damned sight older than you are, but I do sometimes find you as cranky and full of unwarranted prejudices as that old stick-in-the-mud Charles Moore at Applelinks. Really.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on November 23rd, 2009 at 6:48 PM:

      @William Timberman, Don't confuse presenting a possibility with a prejudice. I am perfectly comfortable with Mac OS X. I first used it before the vast majority of you, because I received the original Public Beta in a special Apple demo at CNET headquarters prior to the official release. I could see the possibilities even then, though it was so unfinished.

      Peace,
      Gene

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